How to Teach Dyslexic Students Fractions

My husband, Howie and I were tutoring a Dyslexic 9 year old girl a few months ago. She was having difficulty understanding fractions.  The method her teacher was using confused her. The exercises our student was working with set problems up this way:

The problem with these two dimensional diagrams is they are as abstract as the numerical image 1/4. For a Dyslexic student including the little girl we were working with these both meant nothing to her. They are symbols for something real – portions or parts but the child does not know that.

My husband, Howie is the math person between the two of us and went to work showing her physically what these two dimensional abstract images meant. He started with oranges. When demonstrating math concepts with real objects always make sure you have one whole of the object being used as you show the parts. If there is no complete object in view a Dyslexic child tends to lose the concept being taught.

Use several examples of fractions of things until they start to understand what the concept of a fraction is. They need to connect the abstract language of math with the concrete ideas it represents.

Now let’s go back to the exercise with the squares. Once Howie had our student understanding he was talking about parts he took two pieces of paper and drew a four part  rectangle on both of them. One piece of paper was coloured yellow. He cut this rectangle into four pieces. The first piece of paper was blue ( she had Irlen Syndrome and blue was the best colour for paper and acetates for her – see our website for informationIRLEN SYNDROME & DYSLEXICS ) so that her ability to see the paper clearly was not an issue – text on white paper is hard to see for those with Irlen compounding problems with learning fractions. Then he started to put one or more of the yellow pieces on the blue squares talking about whether they were one, two, three or four quarters. She got it immediately and actually moved onto adding fractions that session. She left with a smile on her face and her mom felt relieved. She was also able to do the exercises using  two dimensional squares for school and understand what she was doing so her answers were correct and not guesses.

What was accomplished with this process was filling the needs of a Dyslexic requiring meaning and connection to what is real. Dyslexics don’t easily follow sequences well and anything they learn has to be fully understood. They will generally not follow how a square divided up in portions on a flat piece of paper means because it doesn’t connect to anything real to them. Provide physical demonstrations, connect them to the diagram and now you have meaning.

So when you are having difficulty teaching Dyslexics to connect the dots of a concept make it real and then connect it to abstract written languages such as words, arithmetic and math. We have also found this helps kids who do not have Dyslexia.

Karey Hope
Dyslexia Victoria Online


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